Where parents decide to live and raise their kids is a huge decision. There are many different factors to consider when thinking about where (and when, and if!) to relocate – education, jobs, cost of living, crime rate, just to name a few. To determine the best states for families, WalletHub, a personal finance website, conducted an in-depth study of the nation’s school districts along with other metrics to form a ranking of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. The five categories used to tally the states’ family friendliness scores were:
Family FunHealth & SafetyEducation & Child CareAffordabilitySocioeconomics.
Each of the 40 indicators among these five categories were graded on a weighted 100-point scale, with 100 being the most favorable of conditions.
Raising a family can be an expensive task; it helps to live somewhere that allows your income to go the furthest. It has been estimated that the typical cost of raising a child from birth through age 17 is over $200,000, which means a family could spend almost a quarter of a million dollars before having to face the task of sending one kid off to school.
But there’s no single factor that makes a place ideal (or not ideal) to raise a family. Parents should consider their family’s needs and their personal goals when deciding where to live. Do they envision raising their kids in a big, bustling city, or would they prefer something more quiet, safe, and laid-back? Do they want to live in one of the country’s best school districts? Or would they rather live somewhere where housing is more affordable so that the money that is saved can be spent elsewhere? It’s not an easy decision. The WalletHub report, as well as others, can help families determine what state might be a good fit for them. Here’s a look at the seven best and worst states for families, starting with one of the worst...
14 Run From: West Virginia
According to the WalletHub report, West Virginia ranked 43rd overall. The state placed last in terms of family fun, low in education and childcare, and near the bottom in socioeconomics. For families who depend on childcare, Vermont has the highest number of daycare centers with 84 facilities per 100,000 residents. West Virginia only offers 9 centers within the same size population.
Back in 2012, a Gallup study analyzed the best places to live in the U.S. based on categories like clean water, safe places to exercise, and work environment. Even back then, West Virginia was revealed to be the least desirable place to live. A 2014 Gallup study interviewed 200,000 people from all 50 states to measure physical and emotional health; participants were asked questions about employment, education, health, and the local environment. As a result of the study, West Virginia was deemed “the most miserable state in the U.S.” – for the fifth year in a row!
13 Move To: Connecticut
Connecticut ranked ninth in WalletHub’s report, earning high scores for affordability, education and child care, and health and safety. Public schools in Connecticut consistently rank among top in the nation, although, like anywhere you go, this can vary by town. Many magnet, charter, and private schools offer educational options to neighborhood schools.
Connecticut is also close to New York City and all that it has to offer, as well as Boston. Both cities offer several popular academic, cultural, and entertainment attractions for the whole family. Connecticut has a lot to offer little ones at home, too; there are several children’s museums located throughout the state.
In addition, Connecticut is a relatively safe state in which to live; in Greenwich, for example, there are exceptionally low crime rates and a low sex offender population. Greenwich is proactive in providing alternatives to juvenile arrest and juvenile court by providing a Juvenile Review Board.
12 Run From: Georgia
Georgia, the Peach State, earned the 44th overall spot in WalletHub’s ranking. They scored near the bottom in all five categories of the WalletHub study:
Family fun: 37Health and safety: 46Education and child care: 41Affordability: 45Socioeconomics: 40
Despite the country’s eventual recovery from the economic downturn, Georgia has appeared frequently at the top of the unemployment list. Even though Georgia is home to gigantic corporations like Home Depot, UPS, and Coca-Cola, the state had the highest unemployment rate in the country in August, September, and October of 2015, hovering around 7 percent. Only about 42 percent of Georgia’s students earn a college degree, although more than 60 percent of jobs in the state will require applicants to have a college certificate or degree.
Transportation is a huge problem in Georgia, too. The state ranks near the bottom in per capita transportation funding, and Atlanta commutes are rumored to be awful.
11 Move To: New Jersey
When you think of New Jersey, you may picture those guys and gals from MTV’s reality show The Jersey Shore. If you can look beyond the stereotypes of Snooki and the gang, New Jersey is actually a great place to live and raise a family. New Jersey took WalletHub’s top spot for the education and child care category and also placed high in terms of affordability, coming in at 7th place there. The Garden State ranked 7th overall on the WalletHub list.
WalletHub isn’t the only group to give New Jersey an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Niche, a Pittsburgh based company that analyzes all types of government data to come up with “best of” lists and rankings decided to give New Jersey the top spot on their list. The Niche report included an A rating for education and on access to libraries. Access to daycare and community involvement received A- scores, as did crime and safety. According to the Safewise website, 8 of the 20 safest cities to raise a child were in New Jersey.
10 Run From: Arizona
Arizona ranked #45 out of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The state was below average in several of WalletHub’s indicators:
Family fun: 31Health and safety: 41Education and child care: 48Affordability: 46Socioeconomics: 37
United Van Lines just released a National Movers Study in 2016, which ranks, in order, the top moving destinations across the country. Arizona came in at number 11. According to the study, the most commonly cited reasons for moving to Arizona are a new job and retirement. Overall, more people moved into the state in 2015 than moved out.
According to a 2014 Gallup poll, 38 percent of the Arizona residents they polled said they'd like to move somewhere else. Only 11 other states had higher percentages of people who wanted to leave. 32 percent of people said they would move for work-related reasons, 20 percent said they’d move for family or friends, 11 mentioned the weather or location, and 9 percent said the move would be related to school. Only 4 percent said that a possible move would be because of the quality of life and another 4 percent said it was related to the cost of living.
9 Move To: Nebraska
Nebraska is flat, wide open, and rural. With plenty of space, it’s an affordable place to live. Nebraska came in at number 9 overall among the best states to raise a family. It ranked in 5th place on WalletHub’s lists for affordability and socioeconomics, as well as family fun. Housing costs in Nebraska are below the national average, with a median monthly rent somewhere around $1,200. The median listing price for a house is $149,000. Grocery and child care costs are also lower than most other states’ average costs.
Surprisingly, these lower costs don’t come with lower earning potential for workers in this state. The median household income of $55,107 is higher than average, which means that families in Nebraska can earn decent wages but also enjoy a lower cost of living. Although the state doesn’t have a family leave policy, families in Nebraska still have a better chance of being able to get ahead financially than families in other states.
8 Run From: Alaska
Alaska came in 50th place in WalletHub’s study. The state ranked 50 for health and safety and 47 for education and childcare. Alaska ranks as the fifth most expensive state to raise a family. The median income of $61,749 is high compared to the national median of just over $52,000, but there are also high housing and grocery costs to consider. Rent prices in Alaska are among the 10 most expensive in the nation. The median rent is $1,837 a month, and if a family is looking to buy a house, the median listing price is $250,000. In addition, Alaskans’ groceries cost 26.8 percent more than the national average. To make matters worse, parents in Alaska can expect to pay more for child care than the average American family. A year of infant care will run just over $10,000; care for a 4 year old is a little over $8,000. Also, the state has no parental leave policy.
7 Move To: Minnesota
Not too far away from Nebraska, Minnesota also ranks highly in three of WalletHub’s categories: health and safety (5th place), affordability (2nd place), and socioeconomics (4th place). The state ranked 4th overall according to the WalletHub study.
In the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s 2016 Kids Count report, however, Minnesota was top of the list – for the second year in a row. Minnesota’s rankings have been on an upward trajectory in the Casey Foundation’s report, moving from sixth place in 2012 to first place in 2014. (Watch out, Minnesota… Iowa’s moved from eighth place to third place over the same window of time!)
Minnesota is a beautiful state, though it isn’t lacking in big, bustling cities like Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Duluth. A bonus? Even the big cities are clean and green. There are lots of bike trails and green spaces. In addition, Minnesota is known as “The Land of 10,000 Lakes” – even though there are actually 11, 842 lakes in Minnesota that are more than 10 acres in size. (That means Minnesota actually has more shoreline than California!)
6 Run From: Nevada
According to WalletHub, Nevada is the fifth worst state to raise a family in. To a lot of people, Nevada probably has a kind of shady reputation, with cities like Las Vegas and Reno being known for their adult-oriented… um, entertainment? However, the state did rank in second place on the list in terms of fun for the whole family. Parents might not want to rush to move there, though; the state’s ranking for education and childcare had the state coming in dead last place, number 51. WalletHub arrived at this score by combining the scores for the quality of public schools, high school graduation rates, day care quality and costs, and state parental leave. Nevada ranked 49th in high school graduation rate, with only 71.3 percent of public school students graduating. Divorce rates are especially high in Nevada, at 14.2 percent. Nevada also has the third highest child care costs adjusted for median family income, as well as the third highest violent crime rate.
5 Move To: New Hampshire
New Hampshire took the runner-up spot in the WalletHub report. It came in at number 2 for socioeconomics and landed in the top 10 for every category except for family fun. New Hampshire is an extremely safe state in which to live; in fact, Merrimack, New Hampshire, is one of the safest cities in the U.S. There were only four violent crimes reported in the city in 2014.
New Hampshire is another scenic New England state that is absolutely breathtaking in the fall, with foliage exploding in a rainbow of vibrant colors. Lots of people know about New Hampshire’s mountains, but the state also has great beaches for fishing, swimming, and camping. But winter in New Hampshire is where it’s at! People in New Hampshire love to hit the trails on their snowmobiles. But if that’s not your thing, you can always hit the slopes for some of the best skiing in New England.
4 Run From: Mississippi
Mississippi ranked no higher than 43rd place in any of WalletHub’s categories. It ranked number 50 in both family fun and affordability and number 48 in socioeconomics. And WalletHub isn’t the only one to give Mississippi such low marks. According to data compiled by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, a private philanthropy based in Baltimore, when you look at factors such as poverty levels and graduation rates, Mississippi ranks last for overall child well-being. Much like the WalletHub study, the Annie E. Casey Foundation compiled its state rankings by looking at statistics spanning economic well-being, education, health, family, and community.
When it came to health-related factors, Mississippi had the highest percentage of low-birthweight babies in 2014. Mississippi also had the highest mortality rates among children and teens in 2014, with a child and teen death rate of 39 per 100,000. Mississippi tied Louisiana for the highest rate of children living in single-parent families, 47 percent. 27 percent of Mississippi families lived in high-poverty areas.
3 Move To: Vermont
According to WalletHub, Vermont is the safest and the healthiest state in the country. It was also number 2 in the childcare and education category. The only major category where Vermont scored below the top 20 was family fun – it came in at number 35.
Vermont is incredibly safe; the state has the sixth lowest number of sex offenders in the country. Many cities have active community Neighborhood Watch programs that work to fight crime.
Vermont ranked high in the education category because the state has the rest of the nation beat in its student-teacher ratio. Vermont’s student-teacher ratio was twice as low as California, who had the most students per educator. For those who depend on childcare, Vermont also has the highest number of daycare centers, with 84 facilities per 100,000 residents.
In addition, Vermont has lots of other selling points, like apple picking and vibrantly colored foliage in the fall and skiing in the winter.
2 Run From: New Mexico
The absolute worst state to raise a family in 2017, according to WalletHub, is New Mexico. It ranked last in affordability and next to last in education, child care, and socioeconomics. New Mexico ranks as the third most expensive state to raise a family. The median income of $44,472 is nearly $8,000 below the national median.
Here’s how New Mexico ranked in some other categories:
Infant mortality rate – 18thViolent crime rate – 48thPercentage of families below poverty level – 50thHousing affordability – 36thUnemployment rate – 48thDivorce rate – 46thPercentage of two-parent families – 47th
Another study, this one by United Van Lines, put New Mexico at number 8 for the most-moved-from states. The study found that 57.4 percent of United Van Lines’ customers in New Mexico were moving out of the state, while 42.6 were using the company to move in.
Albuquerque Business First featured a series of interviews with New Mexicans who had already moved from or were planning to move from the state. The most common complaints were the state’s high corporate tax rate and high crime rate in Albuquerque.
1 Move To: North Dakota
WalletHub’s number 1 family-friendly state for raising kids is North Dakota.
It ranked in the top seven for every category except for family fun, where it came in at number 13. In socioeconomics, it was ranked number 2, only behind Utah. According to the U.S. Census, the median household income in North Dakota was $60,000, higher than the national average, in 2015. Census records indicate an increase of nearly $5,000 in 2016. From 2007 to 2013, the state was one of five in the nation to see a decrease in the poverty rate. North Dakota has the lowest unemployment rate in the nation, averaging 3 percent. North Dakota has spent millions of dollars upgrading public works, utilities, and public safety. They’ve also spent almost $400 million in capital improvements, all to accommodate the booming population (indicated by record numbers of births and high student enrollments) and maintain its family-friendly nature.